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A Sad Tale Of An American City

Virginia Allyn | United States

Woman on Kaighns Avenue

A print ad campaign, "Camden Is...", extols the city's virtues. The streets tell another story. There was an optimism in its 1950s heyday that drew people here. Camden, NJ was a city that held promise.

Today it's not what it used to be. As industry left, people left and everything deteriorated.  Camden has been called the most dangerous city in America, the poorest city in New Jersey.  The crime rate is high, the opportunities few.  One resident believes "75% of the people who live here are prostitutes, drug dealers, addicts."  People loiter on the corners, businesses are shuttered and abandoned, homes gutted by fires stand uninhabitable.  The streets are an endless stream of deep potholes and neglect.  Crack cocaine contributed to the blight. "There's nothing left." 

While every city has its troubles, Camden has had more than its share.   The streets are dotted with cheap clothing stores, nail and hair salons, liquor stores and storefront churches, empty lots.  What draws people here?  Drugs.  For those addicted "you get stuck down here." 

From every angle Camden is a city of misery. Camden is a city in need of deliverance. Like other cities such as Gary, Indiana, Camden tells a  tale of what brings about the downfall of a city.  

I met one woman who lives in an abandoned house.  There is no heat. When she awakens in the night she hears the rats.  She has repeatedly looked for work without success.  "I've had enough.  Eventually it gets to that point where you had enough..."

There is evidence of hope.  The northside is slowly improving.  On the waterfront the Hilton Garden Inn is the first new hotel here in 50 years. There are now luxury apartments, a waterfront park and big name entertainers appearing at a new waterfront venue. Investment is essential to a comeback story, a vision that will bring decent jobs, decent housing, better schools and services and opportunities for the people of this city.  Hope is that thing with feathers.

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